Mutual Cooperation and the Importance of Timing
In the realm of the animal kingdom, few animal mothers are as dedicated as penguins, so matter what species of penguin she happens to be. Male penguins are equally dedicated to the preservation and safety of their young. For penguins, the survival of their young is not possible without mutual cooperation and concerted effort.
Penguin parents often have to travel more than 30 miles away from their offspring in order to find food. Neither eggs nor newly hatched chicks can be left alone that long, so penguin parents take turns staying at the clutch to care for them for periods of 10 days or longer. A penguin parent will not leave its egg unless it becomes dangerously close to starvation itself, which is why the timing of their return to the clutch to relieve the other parent must be impeccable.
For tropical African penguins, nick-named jackass penguins because they make a loud noise resembling a donkey, the trek for food is a little easier than for Arctic penguins. If the parents are successful in protecting their young from predators such as girdle lizards and kelp gulls, these penguins can enjoy a life span of over 30 years. Interestingly, their patterns and spots are as individual as human fingerprints which is yet another way these animal mothers can easily distinguish the fathers of their broods.
Jealousy and Family Preservation
Due to changing weather conditions, some Arctic penguins now have to walk close to 70 miles from their laying grounds to feed. Despite the willingness of these amazing animal mothers and fathers to do whatever is necessary to renew the cycle of life, many of them die without being able to return. Unlike humans, the mourning period for the loss of a mate is relatively brief.
Almost immediately, the search is begun for a new mate, However, there have also been cases in which the original mate reappeared after a new mate had already been found. The result was that the new mate, and her eggs, were promptly forced out of his nest by the first mate. The evicted animal mother then had to search for another unattached male. In cases in which the male returned later than anticipated and found a different female than his mate in his nest, the response has been to evict both her and the eggs before leaving to build a whole new nest.
The Importance of Community
Emperor penguins have a longer incubation period than their tropical counterparts. The male penguins care for the eggs during for the entire 60 days while she is away. During those 60 days, she focuses on feeding on and storing food that she will regurgitate to provide nutrients for her young upon her return. Throughout those long months, male penguins huddle together in solidarity and warmth to keep themselves and their eggs from freezing during the harsh Arctic winter. Human father would do well to emulate this behavior and form, as mothers have, parenting support groups for one another. Just as with human parents, it would be almost impossible for these animal mothers and fathers to succeed in raising their young to adulthood completely alone. Without one another, as well as the assistance of the larger penguin community, very few would survive.
Purely by instinct, these animal mothers return from their journeys to find their mates and newly hatched chicks at the appropriate time. However, those age-instincts have been disrupted by changing topography. Sadly, changing weather conditions and shifting land masses due to global warming have resulted in the loss of 50% of Arctic penguins.
In addition to the importance of cooperation, timing, and community for the preservation of family, perhaps an equally important lesson that human parents can learn from penguins is the vital necessity of preserving the planet upon which all life, including ours, is dependent.